(WALLER COUNTY, Texas) — An independent committee has found that the small Texas jail where Sandra Bland died needs better screening for medical and mental health issues, among other major suggestions for improvement.
The Waller County Jail in Texas came under scrutiny after the death of Bland, who was arrested after being pulled over for changing lanes improperly. She was detained following a confrontation with the arresting officer, which was captured on video.
Days after her arrest, Bland was discovered dead in her cell. An autopsy conducted by Harris County found that she died by asphyxiation and that she used a plastic bag to hang herself from a partition in her cell. The results from a second independent autopsy requested by Bland’s family have not been released.
The committee was created at the request of Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith and is made up of independent community members including several attorneys, a former judge and the president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association.
The committee members said in their report they were given “full, unencumbered” access to the Waller County Sheriff’s Office, including the jail division. Among the suggestions was getting proper medical and mental health screening of inmates by EMTs at the jail; inmates are currently screened by deputies. They also found suicide prevention measures at the jail to be lacking.
“This is not an accurate or efficient process,” the committee said. “Deputies do not possess the training or expertise to evaluate the medical and mental health needs of inmates.”
In their report, the committee members also said that EMTs should be employed to triage and assess inmates to see if they need assistance, pointing out that “more than one half” of the county’s arrestees are on medication.
“[EMTs] are trained in triage and patient evaluation and can quickly determine which inmates will require transport to a hospital for medical or psychiatric intervention,” read the report. “Additionally, arrestees may be more inclined to be forthcoming with an EMT, rather than a police officer whom they may see as adversarial.”
They also suggested that physicians be available via video conference to discuss non-urgent matters with the EMTs.
In total, the committee made nine recommendations, including that a new jail — already in the works — be built quickly to safely accommodate prisoners and guards, as the current facility is not adequate.
The report also recommends a zero-tolerance policy for demeaning language, counseling for officers, allowing officers to report from the field electronically, separating jail administration and policing duties, and having a public information officer to present information accurately to the public. It also suggests that a policy be written regarding the use of video recordings, that body cams be purchased, and that a digital booking process be put in place to streamline information.
Officials from the Waller County Sheriff’s office did not return ABC News’ request for comment.
Paul Looney, a criminal defense lawyer who put the committee together at the request of Smith, said the committee was given full access to the sheriff’s office during their investigation.
“We had unfettered access I was just shocked that a sheriff would give a bunch of civil rights and criminal defense lawyers,” said Looney. “We had it and we came up with what I believe are very good suggestions.”
Looney, who served as an ex-officio non-voting member on the committee, said that while Bland was a driving force for the group, they were not creating recommendations based on what happened to her. He also said he met with Smith shortly before the recommendations were released and found the sheriff to be open to implementing the recommendations.
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